Doctor Who was unceremoniously cancelled by the BBC in 1985, following its twenty-second season – a season which was deemed tired, stale and far too violent for teatime family viewing by BBC Bosses. How ironic then that the final episodes of the Season – Eric Saward‘s Revelation of the Daleks – features the show at the top of its game, delivering a darkly comic and imaginative tale that ranks very highly in Doctor Who circles to this day.
A firm fan favourite of the Colin Baker era, Revelation deposits the Sixth Doctor and put-upon companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) on the planet Necros, which is home to Tranquil Repose, the finest funeral home in the galaxy and a place where the wealthy can have their bodies cryogenically frozen until medical science can cure them. The Doctor suspects foul play regarding the home’s practices, little knowing that his arch enemy Davros (Terry Molloy) and his army of Daleks have hi-jacked the funeral parlour for their own nefarious purposes. Throw in a bounty hunter, some bodysnatchers, a bit of corporate espionage and an eccentric DJ who broadcasts rock and roll to the sleeping dead, and you have a bizarre mid-80’s concoction that only a show like Doctor Who can pull off with aplomb.
Eric Saward‘s witty script is full of delightfully dark and morbid moments that elevate an average little runaround into something very special. The Doctor and Peri are mere side-players in this adventure for the most part, but the guest characters feel suitably fleshed out and whole which elevates the drama considerably, whilst the blacker-then-black humour peppered throughout provides ample opportunities for some occasional social commentary and many macabre laughs. There are a few moments that don’t quite hit the right note, but these are pretty minimal.
Production values are equally above par, largely thanks to the talents of arguably Doctor Who‘s most accomplished and consistently brilliant helmsmen, Graeme Harper. Harper’s direction is inventive, confident and slick, and in turn imbues every other production aspect with the same qualities. From the impressive make-up and monster effects to the haunting score, very little on display here gives the impression of a low budget, and the end result is a one of the era’s best looking stories, atmospheric and appropriately moody throughout. It’s little wonder Harper was invited back to direct Doctor Who from 2006 to 2009, judging by his work on this superb production.
To celebrate the impending release on Blu-ray, the episodes were screened at the BFI Southbank on Saturday 5th March, and Critical Popcorn was lucky enough to attend the event, where we were treated to a preview of the new 5.1 surround sound mix and the restored picture quality on the beautiful big screen in NFT 1. Frankly, the story looks better then ever, holding up well to scrutiny on the big screen, and the event was complimented by wonderful Q&A sessions with stars Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, Revelation guest star Colin Spaull, composer Roger Limb and Blu-ray documentary filmmaker Chris Chapman.
Extra features from the upcoming Blu-ray boxset were previewed at the event as well, including a clip from Chris Chapman‘s Location, Location, Location documentary, which sees Baker and Bryant revisit a number of iconic filming locations used in Season 22. Seeing the two close friends reminisce about their time filming the programme is delightful, and there are a few surprises in store for those who check it out. There was also a short excerpt from Matthew Sweet‘s in-depth interview with Sir Michael Grade, infamously known as the man who cancelled Doctor Who, which promises a refreshing angle on the behind the scenes turmoil the programme was experiencing at the time – though a few boos could be heard in the BFI when the man himself first appeared on screen! Finally, there was an hilarious assortment of clips from the latest in the Behind the Sofa series, which on this occasion sees former Doctors Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy join Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and a host of other Who luminaries to sit down and watch Season 22.
Based on what we saw at the screening, the upcoming Season 22 collection is a must-buy for any Doctor Who fan, what with its raft of new special features, the remastered picture and sound, and a fab selection of stories in the first place. In and amongst the latter, Revelation of the Daleks still remains the definitive highlight of the season, which, whilst occasionally cynical and sadistic in places, is also imaginative, funny, satirical and wholly entertaining!
With Blu-ray treatment like this, there’s no need to be mournful.